Saturday, June 23, 2012

theatre review DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER, Broadway, June 16

Farce can be a hard thing to pull off.  You need the right pacing, proper comic timing and the ability to not veer too far into the extreme otherwise it could come across as blatant mugging and scenery chewing. 

Last Saturday we saw one of the final Broadway performances of the French farce Don't Dress For Dinner and based on the reviews the show received I went in with low expectations.  I don't know if the cast has had more performances to work on those things I mentioned above or if it was just my low expectations but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome and the casts ability to pull off this play that included many hilarious moments. 

Adam James and Ben Daniels
Don't Dress For Dinner is a French play that was written by Marc Camoletti in 1987 and translated into English by Robin Hawdon.  It is actually a sequel of sorts to Carmoletti's earlier play Boeing, Boeing which just happened to be presented earlier this season at the Paper Mill Playhouse.  The play is your typical farce with plenty of misdirection, mistaken identities and many double entendres but with a minimal amount of door slamming when compared to other current farces like Noises Off and Lend Me a Tenor

Spencer Hayden, Ben Daniels and Patricia Kalember
Featuring the same two male characters from his earlier play, Don't Dress For Dinner is actually a better constructed play than Boeing Boeing due to the fact that the comical action starts within just minutes of the plays opening.    In Boeing, Boeing the craziness didn't really hit its stride until about twenty minutes in. 

Bernard and Jacqueline are a middle aged married couple who are both having affairs on the side. Jacqueline is supposed to be going out of town to see her mother so Bernard had arranged for his mistress Suzanne to visit for the weekend along with his friend Robert.  When Jacqueline learns that Robert is coming for the weekend she changes her plans as Robert is actually her lover and she figures that if she stays she and Robert can find some time to be together.  Bernard has also arranged a cook to come for the weekend to help out with things. So, when Jacqueline tells Bernard that she is not going to see her mother he tells her that Robert is bringing his girlfriend and convinces Robert to pretend that Suzanne is his girlfriend.  When Robert confuses the cook Suzette for Bernard's mistress Suzanne hilarity begins.  Things really get interesting when the cook begins to understand exactly what is going on and how to continually monopolize on the ever changing situation as the stakes get higher and higher.   The craziness doesn't stop for the next two hours. 

Spencer Hayden and Ben Daniels
This production is fortunate that Spencer Hayden is playing the cook. Not only is she great with the comic timing required but she delivers a humorous French accent as well as a lithe body that bends and flows around the furniture and the bodies of several cast members.  She so expertly handles everything required of her that it is easy to see why she received a Tony nom for her performance.  As Bernard and Robert, Adam James and Ben Daniels deliver on the requirements and Daniels, who is on stage more then anyone in the rest of the cast, provides some very funny bits including a fast and funny and very speedy monologue, but neither of them really sizzle in the sexuality of the roles.  The same could be said of Patricia Kalember who is playing Bernard's wife.  She is sensual and perfectly charming but this is a sex farce so a little more heat would have been nice from the three leads. 

The same can't be said about Jennifer Tilly.  Sure, she may come across as performing in a different version of the play then the rest of the cast due to her roughness and lack of any form of European accent but damn if she doesn't grow on you.  She provides a huge shot of sexuality as well to the otherwise prim and proper cast.   She has no problem letting it all hang out and her curves and flash of flesh add a nice bawdy element.  David Aron Damane has the right combination of fear and sweetness as Suzette's jealous husband and when he shows up late in act two he has no problem jumping right in with the rest of the cast and actually brings the zaniness to an even higher level.

Jennifer Tilly, Ben Daniels and Spencer Hayden
Director John Tillinger keeps the pace moving fast and the cast hitting the appropriate marks.  He has also contributed several clever and humorous comic bits like one including a phone cord as well as a lovely but still funny tango for a slightly drunken Suzette and Bernard.  Design elements are perfectly splendid with a lovely country house set design by John Lee Beatty, some gorgeous costumes by William Ivey Long that include formal wear as well as some of the most gorgeous pajamas I've ever seen and seemingly simple yet effective lighting by Ken Billington.  Overall Don't Dress For Dinner is a fun show with many hilarious moments, expert design elements, solid direction and a more than competent cast led by the bawdy Jennifer Tilly and the extremely talented Spencer Hayden. 

Video segment featuring the cast talking about the show and some clips of the production:

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